Comment Neelie (Kroes)

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Comment Neelie

Research and Innovation in ICT: Time for radical change?

Brussels, 25 September 2012

Open Forum Europe
SPEECH/12/636 (see the source)
by Neelie Kroes
Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our world is changing fast. Twenty years ago few had heard of the Internet. Today, it's used by 2 to 3 billion worldwide; it's a trillion-euro marketplace; it's the platform for innovation transforming every sector from healthcare to transport.sentence permalink

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These days, it's hard to predict how the world will look in a few months, let alone years: there's so much potential in the path ahead.sentence permalink

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Those changes are thanks to research and innovation; in new technologies, new products, new business models.sentence permalink

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But those changes also enable a new kind of research and innovation: open, agile and collaborative. Innovation using new forums like online collective platforms; new resources like open data; new techniques like data-mining.sentence permalink

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The EU has long supported research and innovation. And rightly so: it's the best way to invest in future growth. And it delivers better when we do it together: when we pool our resources for economies of scale, and let the benefits spill over across borders.sentence permalink

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Our investment has already delivered great things. And that support will continue: for the 7 years of Horizon 2020, from 2014 to 2020, we have proposed 80 billion euros of investment, of which around one fifth for ICT. Across the spectrum, from pure research to pure innovation, and all the bits in between.sentence permalink

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That support should continue. But it also needs to change.sentence permalink

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Because the tools that supported ICT in yesterday's world won't work in tomorrow's. The pace of change, the capacity for new disruptive ideas, is simply too great.sentence permalink

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We must update our policies and practices for the digital world.sentence permalink

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Better innovation needs new ideas, more agile support, and a culture where it's OK to take risks. If you're an entrepreneur, and you don't take a risk, you don't innovate; it's that simple. It's time that this philosophy also spread more to the public bodies who support innovation.sentence permalink

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There are a number of things we need to do. Already we've set out how we will make Horizon 2020 easier to use: with a simpler architecture, more streamlined funding schemes and the lowest possible administrative burden.sentence permalink

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But we need to go further. We need to give our research and innovation the three C's: more challenging; more coherent; and better at boosting competitiveness.sentence permalink

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First, remember that great innovation isn't about keeping the status quo: it's about challenging it.sentence permalink

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It's radical, disruptive, and sometimes non-linear – especially for emerging technologies. So let's make space for that in Horizon 2020.sentence permalink

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Here's what I want to do.

I want to try out support for truly open, disruptive innovation in ICT. Allocating perhaps 5% of funds to create an open, agile, responsive funding instrument. Starting an experiment to support creativity and innovation.sentence permalink

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I also want to inspire innovators: with inducement prizes for solutions to major technical and societal challenges; however disruptive.sentence permalink

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I want to show procurement agencies across Europe the benefits of buying innovative technologies, even before they hit the market. Show them how they can save taxpayers' money – and stimulate a new generation of technology leaders at the same time.sentence permalink

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And most of all, I want us to be more challenging and responsive in how we manage projects. There's nothing wrong with taking a risk. But if a project turns out not to work as intended, funders should be able to stop it, and free up innovators for other challenges.sentence permalink

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Equally, if a project exceeds expectations, if it works, great! Then we should prioritise it, for example supporting private fundraising for it, and exploiting its results faster.sentence permalink

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Second, innovation needs to be coherent.

At the moment, we work within our own safe little boxes, researching in separate subject silos, or funding from separate pots of money. We still too often see policy issues as distinct islands; 'societal' challenges as unrelated to 'industrial' or 'academic' ones.sentence permalink

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And many actors, as beneficiaries, are quite happy staying in their silo, too comfortable to risk breaking out of them.sentence permalink

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But this isn't right. The areas we are working in aren't distinct and separate: they are inherently linked, different parts of the same puzzle.sentence permalink

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A particular research field doesn't "belong" to just one objective: often, it serves many. Take an area like smart cities: they can help climate change, transport, energy, social inclusion: and give European industry a global boost. Or take robotics: with applications from healthcare, to industry, to emerging technology.sentence permalink

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Too often these days, we'll look at a proposal that meets several objectives; but we have to turn it down, because we can't figure out which box to fit it into.sentence permalink

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So let's break down these artificial walls: let's have more "open calls" and schemes cutting across challenges. This can build on existing work, like the Embedded Systems platform from Artemis, or the Europ Robotics platform.sentence permalink

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And let's bring down other barriers, too. Look at areas like micro and nano-electronics. If we want to succeed there, we need to pull down the walls between our innovation policy and our industrial policy. Bringing together public and private funds for large, strategic projects to develop this Key Enabling Technology. But also supporting pilots to help industry cross the gap between successful research and actual markets; the so-called "valley of death". Only then could we make Europe an innovation powerhouse, and create something like an "Airbus of chips".sentence permalink

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And we'll look beyond that, to the coherence of our policy framework. It's no use supporting innovation with one hand if we strangle it with the other. For example current copyright restrictions often prevent innovations like data and text-mining; let's look at that.sentence permalink

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And let's also look at other areas where we can find and exploit synergies between research and policy. From cloud computing to radio spectrum, from "rich media" to network security. And, in fact, later this week I'll be presenting our strategy on cloud computing to ensure Europe captures the benefits.sentence permalink

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And to show we are being absolutely coherent, let's show how different projects are contributing to consistent goals. Like how they are benefiting the general public, our economy, our society.sentence permalink

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For that, we need clear indicators for ICT research and innovation; and a more evidence-based approach to setting priorities and allocating budgets.sentence permalink

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I want to propose metrics for this – and I want your views on them. So we'll put them out for comment by stakeholders, before the end of the year.sentence permalink

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And let's have a forum for new open communication between researchers and those they serve. An open and interactive process where innovators can stay in touch with society. Two-way communication: so scientists can show how they are contributing to society – and so they can make their research more coherent, responsible and relevant to society's needs.sentence permalink

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How to do this? Well, we are completely rethinking our approach towards advisory groups. We are strengthening dialogue with a range of actors, from researchers to users, from industry to civil society. We are getting stakeholders to help us on corporate social responsibility. And I'll be working with my own young advisers, and our new cohort of national digital champions, on this.sentence permalink

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Overall, I want us to systematically seek feedback on our initiatives. With peer review, right from early on in the process. "Co-designing" lets us check we have the right elements in place and will give us a more solid strategy.sentence permalink

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And that fits in alongside our work on open science: with open access to the scientific results from all EU-funded research, and progressively opening access to the data, too.sentence permalink

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The third thing we need is research and innovation focused on competitiveness.sentence permalink

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Remember the time we're in. All of us see slow economic growth. Our young people face worrying job prospects. And our international partners are racing ahead.sentence permalink

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Boosting competitiveness needs to be at the heart of everything we do. Including, especially, our innovation agenda. For every part of the ICT ecosystem, let's map out how to achieve global competitive success; and then, let's tailor our research to fit that.sentence permalink

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Here's some ideas in detail.

Good research and innovation should, eventually, translate into real products, real services, and real jobs. But it's not the Commission who will actually take that final step: it’s the private sector.sentence permalink

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So let's get the private sector more involved, right from the start. Let's have more of a relationship between those researching and those who might invest in their ideas. More private sector financing involved. More business and investment experts involved in selecting and monitoring the projects closer to market. And more industrial players from across the value chain taking part.sentence permalink

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And one more thing. Remember: who's the real engine of innovation in our economy? Who is it who uses innovation to create jobs? Well, it's not the Commission. And it's often not the big, established companies, the ones used to participating in EU programmes.sentence permalink

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In fact, it's small businesses and start-ups who innovate best. So let's help them!sentence permalink

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For example, I'm looking at whether we can ringfence maybe one fifth of the ICT budget for high-tech small and medium businesses. And cut the red tape for them to access it.sentence permalink

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Let's give small businesses the best advice about how ICT can boost their bottom line.sentence permalink

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And let's help them cluster, and jointly access the technology that they can't afford alone. Technology that helps them innovate.sentence permalink

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Our partnership for advanced computing, PRACE, already makes supercomputer capacity available, for industry and academics to simulate and design. Why not make access to those platforms systematic, pervasive, available to every high-tech small company?sentence permalink

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Ladies and gentlemen,

The world has transformed, thanks to ICT innovation. Now we also need to transform how we support that innovation. By being more challenging, more coherent, and more focused on competitiveness.sentence permalink

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Will it work? Well, as a good researcher will tell you, you don't know for certain what will work until you've done the experiment.sentence permalink

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So we need to try out the most promising ideas. And that's exactly what I intend to do.sentence permalink

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We need to see a vision here. See beyond the risks towards the opportunities. North America and the Far East are setting a fearsome pace: Europe needs to keep up.sentence permalink

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So I want to try out these ideas in Horizon 2020, for at least two to three years. Not changing incrementally, not staying in our comfort zone, but a jump forward, an experiment at critical mass.sentence permalink

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It's called Horizon 2020, by the way, not because this is something to look at in eight years' time. On the contrary: this can't wait. To secure better lives for 2020, we have to act now.sentence permalink

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So I've already started that change. Already I've relaunched my department to match my ambition. We just held an "ICT Competitiveness Week" to look at these issues with the ICT community. And the change will continue, as we prepare Horizon 2020 and its first, 2014, work programme.sentence permalink

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Ladies and Gentlemen, I know from previous visits here at Open Forum Europe that you share my passion for openness online.sentence permalink

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I hope you can also see my passion for open, transformed ICT research and innovation.sentence permalink

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I hope you share that passion. And I hope you can support it.sentence permalink

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If we invest better, we will innovate better, and we will build a better future. The world is changing: the way we innovate needs to change too. Starting from now.sentence permalink

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Thank you.